Increasing support for change to laws on cohabitation to protect those
There are an increasing number of calls to reform laws on cohabitation because very often one of the couple is left with little or nothing despite years of cohabitation.
Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, said “Many people don’t realise that cohabitees don’t have the same legal rights as married people and that “common law” relationships are not recognised in this country. It can lead to outcomes that many would consider to be unfair when cohabiting couples separate. A partner who has lived and contributed to the relationship in the same way as a married partner can be left with nothing.”
Roughly half of babies are now born outside of a marriage. According to the Office for National Statistics in 2013 there were 18.2 million families in the UK – only 12.3 million of which consisted of a married couple with or without children.
Last month Catherine Blackburn was awarded £28,500 when her cohabiting relationship broke down. She had invested nearly £5000 of her money into the property her former partner bought and she had been promised a “home for life.”
In an appeal judgment, Lord Justice Tomlinson acknowledged in the case (Southwell v Blackburn  EWCA Civ 1347) that she had contributed to the relationship by doing most of the housekeeping and pointed out that the property had risen in value by £80,000 during the relationship. These considerations look similar to those in ancillary relief hearings – but because the couple were unmarried the judges had to rely on wholly different legal precedence. They used case law surrounding broken promises and calculated “compensation for detriment” – similar to contract law. The aim was to put her back into the financial position she was in before the cohabitation. This was, most likely, considerably less than she would have received had she been a divorcing wife – although for a cohabitee not on the mortgage she did well.
Sir Nicholas Mostyn a family law High Court Judge recently told a family law conference “I do not support two classes of adjudication depending on whether there happens to be a marriage.” Sir James Munby President of the Family Division has also recently called for cohabitees to be protected by law.
A survey of Members of Parliament carried out by Resolution found that two in three MPs support changing the law to protect cohabitees.
Edwards of Resolution said “there is a groundswell of support building for a change,” and encouraged the government to act.